Yesterday a couple of previously repaired tiles from before I owned my house started to come loose in my shower. I had hoped it would be a simple fix, but after taking one off in the hopes of regluing it quickly became evident that the old owners of my house had done a bad job tiling over water damage that had only grown worse over the years. As a result, I have contractors rebuilding by entire shower from top to bottom due to decades of damage and rot that the old owners tiled over. It has not been a fun day. Or a cheap one. Oh, and of course they don’t make the tiles used in my bathroom anymore, so everything around the shower has to be retiled, too, unless there is a new trend for mixing and matching tiles.
So today I am unfortunately a bit preoccupied. Therefore, I haven’t much to share in terms of my blog except for a few odds and ends. One is an interesting passage from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. It came to me from an abridgment made of various papers on human anatomy by John Lowthorp sometime before 1716, when the second edition (the one I have at hand) was published. Lowthorp was copying from Sir Thomas Molyneux, who in 1700 wrote “An Essay Concerning Giants” for the Transactions, so I turned to the original. From the passage quoted below it is evident that Molyneux beat Sir Hans Sloane by almost three decades in determining that the bones of “giants” were really those of megafauna, though he did not quite recognize the concepts of extinction of fossilization. As a result, I must revise my timeline and award Molyneux the laurel until a still older claimant can be found.
Remains, such I mean as are truly bone (for some are only natural petrifactions and lapides sui generis), were bones belonging to some of the biggest quadrupeds, as elephants, or some of the largest sort of fishes of the whale kind, called by Pliny in his Natural History, as they are here by Seutonius Belluae, and Belluae marine. And I am persuaded by what I have seen myself of the like kind, that the large tooth mentioned by Ol. Wormius in his Museaeum, and afterwards particularly described and figured by Thomas Bartholine in his Centuria I. Historiarum Anatomicarum Historia 98, which they both thought and would have us believe from its resemblance, was a Canine tooth of a Giant, was nothing else than the tooth of the Cetus Dentatus or Spermaceti-whale.
So why doesn’t Monyneux have the same fame as Sloane and Georges Cuvier in debunking giants? Well, Molyneux, while a skeptic of most claims, believed in giants and thought he had proof of a 12 foot tall giant in the form of a large frontal bone or os frontis (measuring 9.1 by 12.2 inches) kept in the medical college at Leyden and first reported in England in the 1680s. The majority of his article was devoted to explaining why the skull is human and how its large size must correlate to an exceptionally tall man.
Writing in the 1860s, the natural historian, surgeon, and zoologist Francis T. Buckland disputed Molyneux’s view that the large os frontis indicated a massive human, and he attributed the abnormally large bone to hydrocephaly. So far as I know, no one thereafter disputed that assessment, and it was also the conclusion of Dr. Jan Bondeson, writing in A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities in 1997. The bone seems to have dropped out of gigantology literature after the 1800s, though it pops up in Charles de Loach’s Giants: A Reference Guide (1995) as evidence of giants and occasionally on the web.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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